Column: Art. Ask for More.
WORTHINGTON -- You undoubtedly know that the fine arts are an important aspect to anyone's education. Plus, I am sure you have heard someone at your school, church or community advocate the worth of a basic appreciation of music, painting, acting...
WORTHINGTON -- You undoubtedly know that the fine arts are an important aspect to anyone's education. Plus, I am sure you have heard someone at your school, church or community advocate the worth of a basic appreciation of music, painting, acting, dance or even being able to read basic melodies out of your church hymnal. So my question then becomes: are we getting enough?
I teach an American Popular Music class each semester at Minnesota West Community and Technical College. This course is a popular humanities credit option for many liberal arts track students, in which the enrollment is a fine mix of post-secondary students, traditional college students and non-traditional aged students as well. Around the fourth week of class, I ask a simple question: Who is Louis Armstrong? Inevitably, out of a class of 30, I get about a dozen students who answer: "The first man on the moon." Additionally, there are about one or two that respond: "That guy who rides his bike around the world." I am always at a loss of how to respond to this outcome. On the one hand, the last-name recognition tells me the group knows something about American history. Neil Armstrong is an important figure in the accomplishments of NASA. And Lance Armstrong is a great sports figure, and advocate for cancer research with his LIVE Strong campaign. However, where does this leave arguably the most significant figure in American popular music history? What would the movie "Good Morning Vietnam" be like without that classically American voice singing "What a Wonderful World," not to mention Armstrong's amazing coronet playing?
Music has never before been at our finger tips so effortlessly. With the Internet and MP3s, we can download almost anything, from a classic Roy Acuff recording to the latest dance craze sweeping the Netherlands. The most brilliant advantage to this technology is that we can decide what we listen to in our car, while walking the dog or on a Saturday afternoon at the lake. We can find that song that speaks to us, or that musician that amazes us with their talent or a rhythm that takes us away from our responsibilities if just for a moment. Understanding the lineage of that song or musician makes it all the more exciting. Musicians are as unique of individuals as people themselves, because they are people. They are influenced by other song writers and musicians. Their songs reflect their experience, perspective and lifestyle. There are so many layers to one single piece of good music that we can miss when we treat it as "background noise." What do the lyrics mean? Where did that beat come from? How did he learn to play the piano like that? Where did she learn to play the guitar so well? This appreciation is what I ask my students to find within themselves in class. I ask them to listen to a piece at least three times before making a judgment on the work. It is like that movie you watch a second or third time, and pick up something new you never noticed before. It often offers new insight to the plot or a character. This is the same with any art form.
So I encourage us to enjoy the arts together. Sing a song, play music, dance about, read a book, even draw with your child or your grandparent. Explore your dream to act or paint! There are plenty of opportunities to start this today right here in our community; not only at Minnesota West, but at our public library, the dance studio down town, or at your very own church. As Shakespeare put is so simply in his play "As You Like It" -- "All the world's a stage."
Eric Parrish is a music instructor at Minnesota West Community and Technical College, Worthington campus.